Naveen Kumar, after establishing himself as the first-choice goalkeeper for FC Goa at the expense of Laxmikant Kattimani towards the end of last season, surprisingly left FC Goa to join Kerala Blasters.
However, the 30-year-old goalkeeper had featured in just five games in the Indian Super League (ISL) last year as he spent most of the season as deputy to Kattimani only to start in the latter stages of the league. Sergio Lobera had trusted Kattminai under the bar but his poor show on several occasions forced the Spanish coach to field Naveen in their last five games.
But by the time Naveen won Lobera's trust, he had already held talks with Kerala and had made up his mind to leave the club. Goa then roped in former Bengaluru FC custodian Lalthuammawia Ralte at the beginning of 2018-19 season and promoted teenager Mohammad Nawaz.
At Kerala, Naveen once again had to fight for his place in the starting XI with India’s U17 World Cup team custodian Dheeraj Singh. It must be noted that Naveen appeared in only five out of the 12 matches Blasters played before the Asian Cup break.
FC Goa, on the other hand, entrusted Nawaz with the goalkeeping duties. The youngster did put in some solid shifts and did receive a lot of praise from the Spanish coach
But it was always going to be difficult for Lobera to completely depend on an 18-year-old goalkeeper for the entire season. On the other hand, Ralte could never gather the trust of his coach after a pre-season friendly game against the Indian Arrows where he performed very poorly.
In the January transfer window, there was an opportunity to bring Naveen back in place of Ralte and Lobera jumped at the chance.
Since coming back to Goa, Naveen has appeared in seven matches so far out of which he has successfully managed to keep four clean sheets. He has been stellar under the bar for the team and has provided a good solution for Goa’s goalkeeping woes from last season. Most notably, his brilliant saves in Goa's 5-1 play-off win over Mumbai City helped Goa maintain their supremacy.
It has been a wonderful turn of events for Naveen Kumar in the past one year. From being a discard at Goa to come back on loan in just half a season and becoming their first choice goalkeeper, his fortunes have certainly changed.
The Punjab-born goalkeeper, who has been playing in the top tier of Indian football since 2011 and has plied his trade with several big clubs like Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar, has finally established himself as the first choice custodian of a top Indian club.